Friday, 26 February 2010

Metro rail loop finally finished
By TJ Burgonio, Paolo Montecillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Imagine taking a commuter train around Metro Manila without having to leave the line except at your final destination.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Thursday had that exhilarating experience when she took the media on a train ride from Quezon City through Caloocan and Manila to Pasay City and back.

Ms Arroyo marked the 24th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution by taking the inaugural ride of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 North Extension project from North Avenue in Quezon City to Monumento in Caloocan City.

The P7.6-billion project completes the LRT-Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 loop.

“This is to decongest Metro Manila. By making it convenient because it’s O-shaped, you don’t have to go down and take another transport. You can go anywhere and get off anywhere, and you just take the transport for your final destination,” Ms Arroyo told reporters during the inaugural ride.

After 14 months of work, the project is expected to operate commercially by March 15.

The North Extension project involved the construction of a 5.7-kilometer elevated viaduct to connect the LRT’s northernmost station, Monumento, to the MRT’s North Avenue station on EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue).

Three new stations

The project, built by DM Consunji Inc. and First Balfour Inc., plans to add three new stations on the northern end of the LRT line 1—Balintawak, Roosevelt and North Avenue—all along EDSA. The last station will be shared with the MRT.

By the middle of next month, LRT Authority (LRTA) Administrator Melquiades Robles said the government would open only the Balintawak station, which is strategically located to benefit commuters coming from the North Luzon Expressway.

While trains can already pass through all stations, more tests are needed to ensure the safety of the Roosevelt and North Avenue stations, Robles said.

He said the extension, once operational, could boost the number of people riding the LRT line by up to 100,000 a day. LRT 1 ferries an average of half a million people daily. The LRTA expects to have all three new stations operational before the third quarter of this year.

Robles said the construction of the North Extension, dubbed as “Closing the Loop,” was one of the cheapest and fastest infrastructure projects of the government.

90-minute ride

Ms Arroyo took the train ride from the MRT Santolan station and back in one-and-a-half hours after raising the flag and speaking at the 24th anniversary celebration of EDSA I at the People Power Monument.

She walked for a few meters from the monument to the nearest gate of Camp Aguinaldo, and then took a presidential bus for the Santolan station, with Cabinet officials and reporters in tow.

Faster, cheaper, safer

The President said that closing the LRT-MRT loop “will bind the metropolis as never before, so that the people can travel faster, cheaper and safer from any part of the metropolis to another.”

Ms Arroyo paid tribute to the train commuters, saying that EDSA was “testament to the quiet heroism of the ordinary Filipino, the commuter who travels the MRT or LRT, every day to and from work, to and from school.”

When the MRT train pulled to a stop at its last station on North Avenue, Ms Arroyo and her fellow passengers got off, and transferred to a spanking new LRT train. [The tracks of the LRT and MRT lines have different gauges, so a commuter must transfer from an MRT or LRT train to another LRT or MRT train to take the second leg of the loop.]

The LRT train took Ms Arroyo and the rest of the passengers from North Avenue to Monumento, stopping only at the Balintawak station for an inspection, and then on to the EDSA-Taft station in Pasay City.

From there, the group walked on a connecting bridge to the MRT station, for the train ride back to Santolan.

1.2M passengers

On the LRT train, Ms Arroyo took her seat at the last car, and coaxed Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza to tell reporters the capacity of commuter trains before she assumed power in 2001 and at present.

“Before the Arroyo administration, the capacity was only 400,000. Now it’s 1.2 million,” Mendoza told reporters and photographers who crowded around Ms Arroyo.

Ms Arroyo agreed, saying that this was all part of her administration’s 10-point agenda.

Fruits of VAT

The North Extension project interconnects Line 1 (LRT line from Monumento to Baclaran); Line 2 (LRT line from Recto to Marikina-Pasig) and Line 3 (MRT Line from Taft Avenue to North Avenue).

Once completed, the ridership of 1.2 million passengers daily is expected to climb by 100,000, Robles said.

“The spirit behind this is the President. This is the cheapest. This is 100-percent local fund,” he said of the project.

Ms Arroyo agreed: “Yes, correct. There’s no loan … These are the fruits of VAT (value-added tax).”

A few minutes into the train ride, the LRT train’s air conditioning unit suddenly stopped working, prompting questions from reporters.

Transport officials, however, explained that the stretch from North Avenue to the Balintawak station was “not yet electrified.”

After the train left the Balintawak station, the air conditioner switched back on.

“We should expect fewer buses on EDSA,” said Vice President Noli de Castro, who joined Ms Arroyo on the train ride at the Balintawak station.

South Extension

While checking on the progress of the North Extension project, Ms Arroyo revived plans to extend the LRT 1 line to Cavite province.

The South Extension project, which was earlier shelved by the transportation department, aims to extend LRT 1 to Imus or Bacoor cities in Cavite, from Baclaran, Pasay.

The South Extension, estimated to cost about $1 billion, will add about 15 km of new tracks to the LRT line 1. The Cavite extension has been on the state’s drawing board for years.

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